I've been feeling a bit sorry for our undergraduates this year. I'm not sure that May Balls etc give the image of Cambridge that I would most like to project, but I really dont see why they shouldnt let their hair down, binge drink or whatever for a week -- because almost all of them have been working themselves sick for months.
This year the post exam celebrations have been rather rained on -- and there's not been much opportunity for languidly sprawling on the grass.
Some rituals go on nonetheless. Tomorrow the Newnham students have their graduation, in the senate house and then in college. Although I never graduated in the formal sense myself (crushed with embarrassment at all that flummery, and not being quite sure how to navigate divorced parents), I actually rather enjoy this. Partly because the students are happy (this year 2 of them got firsts and 4 of them 2.1s -- so how could they not be?), and partly because I get to meet the Mums and Dads etc, which is always fun.
To be honest I am not all that keen on the new habit of involving the parents all the way through. I realise I'm off message on this one, but I dont much like it when Mum and Dad turn up with junior t the interview, and I dont go to the 'meet the parents' sessions we now have. I think for the three or four years they are with me, it's the students that are my business; and that's only disrupted by contact with their parents.
That said, I love getting to know them when all is done -- and some I've kept in touch with a bit. Only once, about 20 years ago, has any Mum or Dad NOT been great to meet (on that occasion the Dad in question gave me a good ticking off for his daughter's 2.2, which made me see what the poor girl had had to put up with.
As for us dons, in the Classics Faculty at least, the equivalent of the May Ball is the rather more sedate, but still hair-letting-down examiners dinner (not on tax payers' money, before you fire off!). Because the truth is that we too have been working extremely hard to teach and then examine the kids with all the care that they deserve.
(On this subject, by the way, I was a bit cross to see an article in History Today on "The Lure of the Limelight" ... it said.."The biggest problem is that the vast majority of students go into academia to write rather than teach: we want to be Mary Beard, not Miss Jean Brodie.".. Pardon, I thought, what I spend most of my time DOING is teaching, and am pleased to.)
Anyway, for us, the examiners' dinner marks a change of gear . . . as well as a chance to re-bond after whatever the stresses and strains of examining were. And after a decent quantity of booze, it tends to fall into a pattern of the oldies telling stories of the past to their more junior colleagues (which is how, of course, traditions, anecdotes and myths are passed on).
This year we fell to recalling the old Cambridge Greek and Latin Book Club, which was disbanded about 15 years ago. It was one of many such clubs in Cambridge and no doubt elsewhere. If you were a member you had to go into Heffers at least once a year and pick a book. Heffers then covered it in brown paper and put a list of the club members on the front cover. The book was then circulated around the members: that is to say, you had three days to read it (or not), and tick your name off, and then you had to take it round to the Porters' Lodge of the college of another member... who had to do the same.
At the end of the year, there was a big party at which swinging fines were levied (to keep the club afloat): fines for not recommending a book, or for keeping it for more than three days. And there was a grand auction of the year's books, with even heftier fines if you didnt actually manage to put in successful bid. The fun of this was twofold. The auctioneer had to characterise the book in question (waspishly done -- especially if it was a book by someone in the room). And as the evening wore on, the sport was to force some poor old member, who hadnt been concentrating, to avoid the fine for non-purchase, by paying way over the cover price for a book they didnt want anyway.
Some time in the early 90s I think, we concluded that the Club didnt any longer have much point, and had one final glorious disbanding party.
I actually think I rather miss it. But at least we've passed the memories on to the young.
I took some pictures on my iphone of the dinner, but for some reason I cant get them the right way up, even when I rotate and save... but here you go!